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Eight U.S. lawmakers decry lack of religious freedom in UK

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WASHINGTON (BP) – A handful of U.S. representatives led by Chip Roy, a Southern Baptist from Austin, Texas, are protesting the use of Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPO) in the U.K., saying the citations are issued to prevent religious expression.

Specifically, PSPOs have been used against people praying silently and displaying pro-life bumper stickers outside abortion clinics, the letter asserts. The letter protests legislation the U.K. Parliament approved March 7 creating public expression censorship zones outside abortion clinics across the U.K.

Roy is the lead signatory on a March 15 letter urging Rashad Hussain, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, to speak against the orders. PSPOs, first approved in 2014, allow local governments to cite individuals for a variety of public actions deemed detrimental to the lives of others, and creates buffer zones where such activities are banned.

“To date, at least five U.K. municipalities have passed ‘Public Spaces Protection Orders’ (PSPOs) permitting the prosecution of Christians and other people of faith for simply expressing their pro-life and religious views,” the letter reads. “PSPOs specifically target the activities of religious believers. … Enforcement of these laws creates a deeply concerning pattern of legal and state-sanctioned harassment of Christians and other pro-life Brits for not only voicing support for the sanctity of life and for offering resources for women considering abortion, but also for exercising their fundamental right to free speech, religious freedom, and freedom of thought.”

As examples, the letter points to “the prosecutions of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce for silently praying in public within the vicinity of a closed abortion facility, Adam Smith-Connor for privately praying for his own son lost to abortion and Catholic priest Father Sean Gough for praying in a censorship zone and having a parked car within the censorship zone with a bumper sticker that read “unborn lives matter.”

Charges citing two of the individuals for silent prayer were dismissed, but Smith-Connor was fined for praying in public, albeit a silent prayer, lawmakers said. U.K. law allows fines of up to 100 pounds ($122) for violating buffer zones.

“As the United States and the United Kingdom share a special and uniquely close relationship, it is imperative that the U.S. speak boldly and clearly to its friend when the U.K. has failed to protect unalienable rights,” the lawmakers said. “A free people do not face legal persecution for exercising a natural right. We strongly condemn the actions of the municipalities and the potential legislation before Parliament to persecute Christians and other pro-life citizens for thought crimes.”

Roy, a member of Hyde Park Baptist Church, represents the 21st District of Texas.

Joining him as signatories are Jeff Duncan, a member of First Baptist Church, Clinton, S.C., representing the 3rd District of South Carolina; Andrew Clyde, a Baptist representing Georgia’s 9th District, and Randy Weber, a Baptist representing the 14th District of Texas.

Others signing the letter are Mary Miller of Illinois, Ben Cline of Virginia, Andy Ogles of Tennessee and Glenn Grothmanof Wisconsin.